A few years ago, shortly before Christmas, a French television news program asked people on a street in Paris if they knew what is celebrated on December 25th. A surprising number, including many North Africans—of which there are several million in France—did not know and expressed complete surprise when told about the date of the birth of Christ.
While the Muslim population and Islam may be growing faster in France than the population and inflluence of Christians, both religions have been continually mocked over the years by a small weekly satirical newspaper that has received so much attention from around the globe after the dastardly and deadly attack on its headquarters at the hands of Islamic terrorists. An unexpected consequence of the attention was the exponential multiplication of printed copies of Charlie Hebdo from the usual few thousand to three million a week after the attack.
Once the dust settles, one wonders if there is now an opportunity for France—and much of Northern Europe as well—to reapprise and reclaim its Judeo-Christian roots. Secularism is not an antidote to Islamism; this was made abundantly clear in the attack of January 7th. Judaism and Christianity are based on the Ten Commandments which include: “Thou shalt not kill!”
Despite secularist claims, France is fundamentally a Christian country. In the Catholic Church, France enjoys the sobriquet “fille de l’eglise” or daughter of the Church. Moreover, the words of the nation’s motto “liberté, egalité, fraternité”—despite being the rallying cry of the French Revolution—are Christian concepts torn from their historical and religious roots.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and writers ignored at their own peril the fact that liberty is not license. Their output of anti-Catholic cartoons was just as irreverent, offensive, revolting and repugnant as their attack on the Muslim faith. If this was their sense of “egalité” it was a perverted interpretation. As for “fraternité”, this was totally absent from their work.
Charlie Hebdo pursued a twisted view of the basic principles on which modern France was founded. It is now time for reflection on the consequences of certain beliefs and behaviors, and what individuals and institutions really stand for. The French must reassess and rediscover their Judeo-Christian roots in the light of recent tragic developments and ponder the three words that define their national identity.
France cannot spurn its Christian essence. Its capital city is dotted with reminders. Each day, thousands of visitors to Paris line up to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Tour guides will often recount to the faithful how many tourists, especially from Northern European countries, don’t know how to behave and don’t know much, if anything, about churches or religion. Their snacks and drinks have to be discarded before entering. Once inside, the magnificent stained glass windows depicting biblical events and commemorating saintly lives are a complete mystery that becomes merely a colorful photo op or the backdrop for a selfie. Maybe, just maybe, a few visitors will take away a sense of awe, wonder, and inquisitiveness that may lead to eventual knowledge and understanding of Christianity.
In another part of Paris, on its highest elevation, stands the Sacred Heart Basilica in Montmartre. It is large and modern, dominating the Paris skyline even more so than the Eiffel Tower. On that site the first Parisian martyr gave his life for the faith. St Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was beheaded there. Today’s Basilica, founded in 1875, is well-known for having perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Volunteers from all over the world can sign up to spend an hour of their choice in quiet prayer, reflection and adoration in this magnificent edifice. Perpetual adoration has been going on, without interruption since August 1, 1885—almost 130 years!
In early January, while somewhere in Paris nefarious acts were planned, plotted and carried out by pen and sword, on Montmartre there was an ongoing aspiration for love and peace in a veritable expression of the ideals of “liberté, egalité, and fraternité.” The spiritual trumped the secular and the violent; neither pen nor sword triumphed.